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Memoir of John Murray
Chapter I.

Vol. 1 Contents
‣ Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Vol. 2 Contents
Chap. XX.
Chap. XXI.
Chap. XXII.
Chap. XXIII.
Chap. XXIV.
Chap. XXV.
Chap. XXVI.
Chap. XXVII.
Chap. XXIX.
Chap. XXX.
Chap. XXXI.
Chap. XXXII.
Chap. XXXIV.
Chap. XXXV.
Chap. XXXVI.
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The publishing house of Murray dates from the year 1768, in which year John MacMurray, a lieutenant of Marines, having retired from the service on half-pay, purchased the bookselling business of William Sandby, at the sign of the ‘Ship,’ No. 32, Fleet Street, opposite St. Dunstan’s Church. Mr. Sandby afterwards became a banker in the old established firm of Snow and Co., in the Strand.

John MacMurray was descended from the Murrays of Athol. His uncle, Colonel Murray, was “out” in the rising of 1715, under the Earl of Mar; served under the Marquis of Tullibardine, the son of his chief, the Duke of Athol, and led a regiment in the abortive fight of Sheriff-muir. After the rebellion against the Hanoverian dynasty had been suppressed, Colonel Murray retired to France, where he served under the exiled Duke of Ormonde, who had attached himself to the Stuart Court.

The Colonel’s brother Robert followed a safer course. He prefixed the “Mac” to his name; settled in Edinburgh; adopted the law as a profession, and became a writer to the Signet. He had a family of three daughters,
Catherine, Robina, and Mary Anne; and two sons, Andrew and John. Of the two sons, Andrew, the elder, took Orders. He first officiated at Kirkcaldy, and afterwards at Duffus, near Elgin, where he died. In 1780, we find
Mr. John Murray writing to the widow at Duffus, condoling with her on a double sorrow—the death of her husband, and the capture of her son Archie, who had been captured by the Spaniards while on his voyage to India.

John, the younger of Robert McMurray’s sons, was born at Edinburgh in 1745. After receiving a good general education, he entered the Royal Marines under the special patronage of Sir George Yonge, Bart.,* a well-known official of the last century, and his commission as second lieutenant was dated the 24th of June, 1762. At that time England was at war with France and Austria. Pitt, Earl of Chatham, was Secretary of State and virtually Prime Minister, but Pitt resigned in 1762, and Lord Bute succeeded him. Bute’s thoughts were constantly directed towards peace; and the “Seven Years’ War,” as it was called, came to an end with the treaty of Paris in 1763. There was now little for the English Navy to do. Most of the war ships were laid up in ordinary; the seamen were discharged, and the Marines took up quarters in their respective barracks.

Young MacMurray was quartered at Chatham. In the Army List for 1768 he was registered as second lieutenant on full pay; and in point of seniority he was No. 34 on the list. Six years had come and gone since the Treaty of Paris had been concluded, and still he remained in the same rank as before. The monotony of this life to a young man of an active and energetic temperament

* Sir George Yonge was Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and subsequently Secretary at War; he died in 1812.

became almost intolerable. At length he contemplated making a sudden change. He would retire on half-pay at the age of twenty-three, and become a London bookseller!

It is not improbable that he was induced to embark on his proposed enterprise by his recent marriage with Nancy Wemyss, daughter of Captain Wemyss, then residing at Brompton, near Chatham. Young MacMurray must have married for love and not for money, as Captain Wemyss was quite unable to assist his son-in-law with capital for his new undertaking. The captain was laid up in ordinary, like his ship, and was a victim to gout and chalk-stones.*

While residing at Chatham, MacMurray renewed his acquaintance with William Falconer, the poet, who, like himself, was a native of Edinburgh. Falconer had been for a long time engaged in the merchant service, but in 1762, through the patronage of the Duke of York, to whom he had dedicated his poem “The Shipwreck,” he obtained the rank of midshipman in the Royal Navy. After the termination of the war with France in that year his ship was laid up in ordinary at Chatham; and then he fell in with his old Edinburgh friend John MacMurray, and to relieve his weary hours, began the preparation of his well-known ‘Universal Marine Dictionary.’

When the work had been completed, and while it was still in the hands of the publisher, Falconer accepted the

* In one of Captain Wemyss’s letters to Mr. MacMurray (23 Aug., 1765) he said: “If ever you come to where I am, you will almost see the devil upon two sticks. I can just make a shift at present to go down to dock and up again; afterwards to my couch like all other animals. My middle finger has altered its position from Dunnose Point to the exact make and form of Lyons Rump at the Cape of Good Hope. I save all the chalk that comes out of it, and will send it on a venture to Maryland, where the article is a scarce commodity.”

position of purser of the Aurora frigate, ordered to proceed to India. In addition to this office he was appointed private secretary to Messrs. Vansittart, Scrofton and Forde, who were proceeding to India in the Aurora, to supervise the affairs of the East India Company. The ship was already at Dover, with Falconer on board, when he received the following letter from
Lieutenant MacMurray, at Brompton, in which he offered to take him as a partner in the business he was about to commence. The letter is worthy of being quoted, as showing the preliminaries of the establishment of the publishing house of Murray.

Brompton, Kent, October 16th, 1768.
Dear Will,

Since I saw you, I have had the intention of embarking in a scheme that I think will prove successful, and in the progress of which I had an eye towards your participating. Mr. Sandby, Bookseller, opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, has entered into company with Snow and Denne, Bankers. I was introduced to this gentleman about a week ago, upon an advantageous offer of succeeding him in his old business; which, by the advice of my friends, I propose to accept. Now, although I have little reason to fear success by myself in this undertaking, yet I think so many additional advantages would accrue to us both, were your forces and mine joined, that I cannot help mentioning it to you, and making you the offer of entering into company.

He resigns to me the lease of the house, the goodwill &c.; and I only take his bound stock, and fixtures, at a fair appraisement, which will not amount to much beyond £400, and which, if ever I mean to part with, cannot fail to bring in nearly the same sum. The shop has been long established in the Trade; it retains a good many old customers; and I am to be ushered immediately into public notice by the sale of a new edition of ‘Lord
Lyttelton’sDialogues;’ and afterwards by a like edition of his ‘History.’ These Works I shall sell by commission, upon a certain profit, without risque; and Mr. Sandby has promised to continue to me, always, his good offices and recommendations.

These are the general outlines; and if you entertain a notion that the conjunction will suit you, advise me, and you shall be assumed upon equal terms; for I write to you before the affair is finally settled; not that I shall refuse it if you don’t concur (for I am determined on the trial by myself); but that I think it will turn out better were we joined; and this consideration alone prompts me to write to you. Many Blockheads in the Trade are making fortunes; and did we not succeed as well as they, I think it must be imputed only to ourselves. Make Mrs. McMurray’s compliments and mine to Mrs. Falconer; we hope she has reaped much benefit from the saltwater bath. Consider what I have proposed; and send me your answer soon. Be assured in the meantime, that I remain, Dear Sir,

Your affectionate and humble servant,
John McMurray.

P.S.—My advisers and directors in this affair have been Thomas Cumming, Esq., Mr. Archibald Paxton, Mr. James Paterson of Essex House, and Messrs. J. and W. Richardson, Printers. These, after deliberate reflection, have unanimously thought that I should accept Mr. Sandby’s offer.

Falconer’s answer to this letter has not been preserved. Perhaps he refused MacMurray’s offer, being already provided, as he thought, with a certain income. At all events, he sailed from Dover in the Aurora frigate. The vessel touched at the Cape; set sail again, and was never afterwards heard of. It is supposed that she was either burnt at sea, or driven northward by a storm and wrecked on the Madagascar coast. Falconer intended to have prefixed some complimentary lines to Mr. Murray to the third
edition of ‘
The Shipwreck,’ but they were omitted in the hurry of leaving London and England for India. The ‘Universal Marine Dictionary’ was published by Millar at the end of 1769; and it is pleasant to have to relate of that gentleman, that he generously bestowed upon Falconer’s widow many sums not stipulated for in his contract with the author.

Notwithstanding the failure of MacMurray to obtain the aid of Falconer in his partnership, he completed alone his contract with Mr. Sandby. His father at Edinburgh supplied him with the necessary capital, and he began the bookselling business in November 1768. He dropped the prefix “Mac” from his surname; put a ship in full sail at the head of his invoices; and announced himself to the public in the following terms:

John Murray (successor to Mr. Sandby), Bookseller and Stationer, at No. 32, over against St. Dunstan’s Church, in Fleet Street, London, sells all new Books and Publications. Fits up Public or Private Libraries in the neatest manner with Books of the choicest Editions, the best Print, and the richest Bindings. Also, executes East India or foreign Commissions by an assortment of Books and Stationary suited to the Market or Purpose for which it is destined; all at the most reasonable rates.”

Among the first books he issued were new editions of Lord Lyttelton’sDialogues of the Dead,’ and of his ‘History of King Henry the Second,’ in stately quarto volumes, as well as of Walpole’sCastle of Otranto.’ He was well supported by his friends, and especially by his old brother officers, and we find many letters from all parts of the world requesting him to send consignments of books and magazines, the choice of which was, in many cases left entirely to his own discretion. In 1769 he received a letter from General Sir Robert Gordon, then in India, who
informed him that he had recommended him to many of his comrades.

“Brigadier-General Wedderburn has not forgotten his old school-fellow, J. McMurray. Send me British news, and inform me of all political and other affairs at home.” [He also added that Colonel Mackenzie, another old friend, is to be his patron.] “I hope,” says Sir R. Gordon, in another letter, “that you find more profit and pleasure from your new employment than from that of the sword, which latter, you may remember, I endeavoured to dissuade you from returning to; but a little trial, and some further experience, at your time of life, cannot hurt you. . . . My best compliments to Mrs. Murray, who I suppose will not be sorry for your laying aside the wild Highland ‘Mac’ as unfashionable and even dangerous in the circuit of Wilkes’s mob; but that, I am convinced, was your smallest consideration.”

The friendship of Falconer with MacMurray was instrumental in introducing the new bookseller to several distinguished authors. John Cartwright, afterwards Major, when on board H.M.S. Wasp, made the acquaintance of Falconer, and through him of MacMurray and others. It was no doubt through the recommendation of John Cartwright that his brother, the Rev. Dr. Cartwright, then of Marnham, near Tuxford, published through Murray, in 1770, his legendary tale of ‘Armine and Elvira.’ The poem was greatly admired, and went through seven editions in little more than a year. Before it came out, however Dr. Cartwright was very apprehensive as to its fate.

“I shall be glad to know what is said of it. You will excuse the trouble I give you in this affair, especially when you consider the paternal anxiety that a man must unavoidably feel for the first brat that he publicly owns. I
forgot to write to Taylor [the printer], as I mentioned in my last, the alteration I wanted him to make was about the head and hair of the lover; as it is at present, he looks more like a Butcher’s boy than the son of an Earl in disguise.”

Dr. Cartwright, however, was much more distinguished as an inventor than as a poet. In the letter from which the above extract is made he asks Mr. Murray to go and see in Soho a machine, which he describes. He must already have been thinking of his great invention. In 1785, he took out his patent for a Power Loom, which, together with the Steam Engine of James Watt, has done so much to establish the manufacturing supremacy of Great Britain.

Dr. Cartwright having begun his academical studies at University College, Oxford, under the private tuition of Dr. John Langhorne, it was natural that Langhorne, when he had completed his translation from the French of the ‘Fables of Florian,’ should desire to publish the work through Mr. Murray, who had been so successful with the legendary tale of his pupil. More notable, however, was Langhorne’s translation of ‘Plutarch’s Lives,’ also published by Murray, which superseded North’s translation from the French of Amyot, and eventually became a standard work.

Shortly after Mr. Murray began business, he became straitened for money. The nature of his business, and especially his consignments to distant lands, rendered it necessary for him to give long credit, while the expense and the risk of bringing out new books, added a fresh strain on his resources. In these circumstances, he applied to his friend Mr. William Kerr, Surveyor of the General Post Office for Scotland, for a loan. Mr. Kerr responded
in a kindly letter. Though he could not lend much at the time, he sent Mr. Murray £150, “lest he might be prejudiced for want of it.” Mr. Kerr also sent some advice, which he thought might be useful for the young married couple.

“Conduct your business with activity, industry, and unremitting attention, without being irritated or vexed by unavoidable accidents or incidents.” [He also urged the necessity of domestic economy.] “You should know what the expense of your family is, once every week. That will be the key to you in most of your other expenses. If, in the course of my travels, any such thing as an author of repute should fall in my way, I will recommend him to you. Everything helps. I am glad you are established upon half-pay. That is always a sure little card, whatever happens.”

In order to extend his business to better advantage, Mr. Murray endeavoured to form connections with booksellers in Ireland and Scotland. He employed Thomas Cumming, a Quaker mentioned in Boswell’sLife of Johnson,’ who had been one of his advisers as to the purchase of Mr. Sandby’s business, to push the trade in Ireland. In 1769 Cumming went to Dublin to take up an official position. While there, he endeavoured to promote his friend’s bookselling connection.

“On receipt of thine I constantly applied to Alderman Faulkener, and showed him the first Fable of Florian, but he told me that he would not give a shilling for any original copy whatever, as there is no law or even custom to secure any property in books in this kingdom [Ireland]. From him, I went directly to Smith and afterwards to Bradley, &c. They all gave me the same answer . . . Sorry, and very sorry I am, that I cannot send a better account of the first commission thou hast favoured me with here. Thou may’st believe that I set about it with a perfect zeal,
not lessened from the consideration of the troubles thou hast on my account, and the favours I so constantly receive from thee; nor certainly that my good friend
Dr. Langhorne was not altogether out of the question. None of the trade here will transport books at their own risque. This is not a reading, but a hard-drinking city; 200 or 250 are as many as a bookseller, except it be an extraordinary work indeed, ever throws off at an impression.”

He, however, seems to have been more fortunate with the bookseller Ewing, who gave twenty guineas for the right of republishing the ‘Florian’ in Dublin, as well as for another book—both translations from the French.

In 1770, Mr. Murray made the acquaintance of Professor John Millar of Glasgow, and of the Rev. John Whitaker of Manchester. When Mr. Millar was appointed Professor of Law in 1761, the students attending his class seldom amounted to more than four or five, but, by a popular and incisive style of lecturing, he eventually created an extensive interest in the subject, and his class-room became filled with eager students. Among his pupils were Lord Jeffrey, Lord Adam, and the Earl of Lauderdale. The Professor was first introduced to Mr. Murray by Dr. Moore, father of Sir John Moore, who fell at Corunna. In his letter to the publisher he said that the MS. of Professor Millar’s work had been read and revised by David Hume and Dr. Robison of Edinburgh, and that they much approved of it and recommended its publication. Mr. Murray was inclined to comply with their request, and eventually accepted the work, giving the author 100 guineas for the first edition. It was entitled ‘Observations concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society.’

Before the work appeared there was some correspondence between the publisher and the author about a Preface. Murray wished one to appear, but Millar at first declined.


“It has the appearance of puffing. To make a preface to a book appears in the same light as to make a number of bows and scrapes as you enter a room. It always puts me in mind of what Hamlet says to the player who acts the part of the murderer—‘Leave off thy damnable faces, and begin.’ However, I should think it very improper to stick to my opinion in a matter of this sort, which it seems Mr. Murray thinks of importance, and which he imagines will affect the sale of the performance.”

Professor Millar at length agreed to write the Preface, and the work was published, in 1771, in a splendid quarto volume. It proved successful, and a second edition was called for in six months. In all, the work went through four editions,* and the publisher, in selecting such a work, had evidently made a good hit.

His next venture, with the Rev. John Whitaker of Manchester, was not so satisfactory. Mr. Murray undertook to publish the first volume of his ‘History of Manchester’ in 1771, but the book was a lingerer on his shelves and did not sell.

“I am sorry,” said Whitaker, in June 1773, “that the quarto edition moves off slowly. But I expected nothing else. It is not a work calculated for an extempore sale, but a slowly growing one. This, however, is said principally with reference to the nation at large. For here [in Manchester], in this town of trade and merchandize, no reputation would give a large sale to any publication that required the task of thinking; and few or none of the volumes, I believe, have begun to be purchased.”

* A few years later, in 1787, Mr. Murray published for the same author his ‘Historical View of the English Government, from the settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Accession of the House of Stuart.’ This work was eulogized by Fox, Jeffrey, Brougham, Hallam and Mackintosh.


Mr. Murray, in his desire to promote the success of the work, sent a copy to his friend Dr. Moore, then a young man, residing with the Duke of Hamilton at La Chatelaine, near Geneva. Moore’s answer was as follows (1st July, 1773):—

“I am sorry to perceive that the ‘Annual Register’ and ‘Broomfield’ the Surgeon’s late book, are not in the list, because I mentioned them both in my note; and I am equally surprised to see Whitaker’sHistory of Manchester’ there. Dear John, what do you think the Duke of Hamilton or I have to do with Manchester? After this specimen of your taste in books, I beg that you will in future send only what is written for; or, if you insist upon making a small addition, pray take the advice of your friend Dr. Langhorne, and neither consult your own taste, a brother bookseller, or a shopkeeper in the City; for I suspect these last have been consulted when you chose the ‘History of Manchester’!”*

Dr. Gilbert Stuart, author of a ‘Discourse on the Government and Laws of England,’ had started the Edinburgh Magazine and Review, of which Murray was the London publisher as well as part proprietor. But the magazine did not succeed; it was too full of abuse. Stuart returned to London, and induced Murray to start the English Review. Its principal contributors were Whitaker, Dr. Moore, on his return from abroad, and others, but Stuart was found to be a very unsatisfactory person to deal with, as Isaac D’Israeli has well shown in his ‘Calamities of Authors,’ and Mr. Murray eventually assumed the duties of editor himself.

Mr. Murray not only published the works of others, but became an author himself. He wrote two letters in the

* Dr. Moore was afterwards the author of the novel ‘Zeluco,’ and of many other works, some of them medical, and others relating to his travels abroad.

Morning Chronicle in defence of his old friend Colonel, afterwards Sir Robert Gordon, who had been censured for putting an officer under arrest during the siege of Broach, in which Gordon had led the attack. The Colonel’s brother, Gordon of Gordonstown, wrote to Murray, saying, “Whether you succeed or not, your two letters are admirably written; and you have obtained great merit and reputation for the gallant stand you have made for your friend.”

Colonel Gordon himself wrote a long and cordial letter to Mr. Murray (dated Bombay, 20th August, 1774), giving him his warmest thanks for defending his honour as an officer and a gentleman. “I cannot,” he said, “sufficiently thank you, my dear sir, for the extraordinary zeal, activity, and warmth of friendship, with which you so strenuously supported and defended my cause, and my honour as a soldier, when attacked so injuriously by Colonel Stuart, especially when he was so powerfully supported.”

In 1775, we find Murray in correspondence with Dr. John Gillies of Edinburgh, Historiographer for Scotland, respecting the publication of his translation of ‘Lysias and Isocrates.’

“I had yesterday a letter from Mr. Allan, a very good artist at Rome, who told me that he had met with two excellent busts of Lysias and Isocrates, of which he had taken drawings, and should have them immediately engraved and sent to you at London, which I had desired. As a reader, I have no great regard for ornaments in books myself, but I am persuaded you judged well, as the plates will be of considerable service to the work. I intend setting about a Greek History on the same plan, which is a thing very much wanting to our literature. I fancy you will by this time have obtained a golden cup to drink out of. Silver is good enough for Nabobs, but not for those who protect, make, and unmake them.”


The latter sentence refers to Murray’s defence of Sir Robert Gordon. Dr. Gillies’ works were both published; the translation of ‘Lysias and Isocrates’ in 1778, and his ‘History of Ancient Greece’ a few years later. Mr. Mitford’sHistory of Greece’—also published by Mr. Murray—appeared about the same time.

Up to this time, Mr. Murray’s success had been very moderate. It was a long uphill fight to establish his reputation as a publisher. He had already brought out some successful works; but the money came slowly in, and his chief difficulty was the want of capital. He was therefore under the necessity of refusing to publish works which might have done something to establish his reputation, and it may accordingly be conceived how delighted he was at learning the probability of his receiving some accession to his fortune.

As early as 1771, he received a letter from his friend, William Kerr of Edinburgh (who had already assisted him), as to the estate of Mount Ross or Ballypeneragh, near Belfast, left by his uncle, who had just died. The estate was to be sold, and the proceeds divided amongst his surviving relatives. On the strength of “this lucky affair,” as Mr. Kerr termed it, he again lent Mr. Murray a further sum of £500, and requested his bond for the amount.

In settling this important matter—proving the will at Dublin, making arrangements for selling the estate, and in the subsequent division of the property,—it was necessary for Mr. Murray to travel frequently from London to Edinburgh, Dublin, and Belfast, and thus in a measure to neglect his business for several years. Indeed he was sometimes absent from London for three months at a time.


By the end of the year 1775 everything was put in order. The estate left by the uncle was sold by Mr. Murray for £17,000; and besides his fourth share of the proceeds, he was allowed £300 for his trouble and expense in managing the affair throughout. The capital he received was at once put into his business; and from this time forward he devoted himself to its extension. He was now able to publish more important works. His prosperity, however, did not advance with rapid strides; and in 1777 we find him writing to his friend Mr. Richardson at Oxford.

Dear Jack,

I am fatigued from morning till night about twopenny matters, if any of which is forgotten I am complained of as a man who minds not his business. I pray heaven for a lazy and lucrative office, and then I shall with alacrity turn my shop out of the window.

A curious controversy occurred in 1778 between Mr. Mason, executor of Thomas Gray the poet, and Mr. Murray, who had published a ‘Poetical Miscellany,’ in which were quoted fifty lines from three passages in Gray’s works. Mr. Mason commenced an action against him in the Court of Chancery for printing these lines, as being his property. Mr. Murray published a pamphlet, entitled ‘A Letter to W. Mason, A.M., Precentor of York, concerning his edition of Mr. Gray’s Poems, and the Practices of Booksellers. By a Bookseller.’ The pamphlet was signed “J. Murray, 32, Fleet Street.” The defence was far more vigorous than the attack, and showed Mr. Murray to advantage as an author. He hit straight, and he hit home. Amongst other things, he retorted upon Mr. Mason that he had himself purloined from a publication which
was Murray’s actual property, protected by copyright, more lines than Mr. Murray had extracted from the Poems of Gray. This passage Mason had inserted, without permission, in his ‘Memoirs of Gray’: “What trick, what device, what starting-hole cans’t thou now find out, to hide thee from this open and apparent shame?”

“Take a few passages from the Letter:—

Mr. Gray, whose name as a poet stands deservedly high, had in his lifetime, at first, published his poems as he wrote them, in detached pieces. He received for these no money nor hire. He formally assigned them to no bookseller. His reward was public approbation. And a disinterested pride ‘led him of all other things to despise the idea of being an author professed’ (Mason’sMemoirs of Mr. Gray’)—that is, like his worthy executor, a mercenary one. Mr. Gray, then, like Shakespeare, made a present of his poems to the public. And not making them a property himself, never dreamt that another person was to erect them into a literary estate, to the exclusion of his heirs . . .

“If Mr. Mason prevails in his suit, he shuts the door at once against extracts of all kinds from new publications. If fifty lines are property, one line is property. And whether I find it in a Magazine, Review, or Newspaper, I claim it, and can prosecute for damages. Will you deny that extracts inserted in these publications, so far from injuring authors, occasion their works to be more known, and consequently to be more called for? But besides that the law is unacquainted with the distinction, I contend that the reverse of this position is the truth. For I insist that extracts from new books give sale and currency to periodical publications, without which the latter would instantly perish.

“So far from intending to violate Mr. Mason’s property, I took some pains to guard against it. Different booksellers, who pretended to no exclusive right in the book, had printed the Poems in question before me. I naturally thought that they would not interfere with Mason’s literary property. And from one of their copies did I print my edition, to avoid all cause of controversy or complaint. . . And could I believe that a man, possessed
of any degree of candour or generosity, would have proceeded to use legal violence against me in the first instance, after being made acquainted with these particulars of my conduct?”

This pamphlet was only published after Mr. Mason had commenced legal proceedings. When Mr. Murray received notice of them, he at once called upon Mr. Mason to explain the circumstances under which he had published the extracts, and requested him to name the terms on which he would be satisfied. Mr. Mason nevertheless proceeded with his action, and obtained an Injunction to stop the sale of the book of extracts, to the great annoyance of the publisher as well as the public.

What was thought of the matter at the time may be inferred from a conversation which occurred at the house of Mr. Dilly, the publisher, in the presence of Dr. Johnson, Mrs. Knowles “the ingenious Quaker lady,” Miss Seward, the Rev. Dr. Mayo, and the Rev. Mr. Beresford. We take the passage from Boswell’sLife’:—

“Somebody mentioned the Rev. Mr. Mason’s prosecution of Mr. Murray, the bookseller, for having inserted in a collection only fifty lines of Gray’s Poems, of which Mr. Mason had still the exclusive property, under the Statute of Queen Anne; and that Mr. Mason had persevered, notwithstanding his being requested to name his own terms of compensation. Johnson signified his displeasure at Mr. Mason’s conduct very strongly; but added, by way of showing that he was not surprised at it, ‘Mason’s a Whig.’ Mrs. Knowles (not hearing distinctly): ‘What! a prig, Sir?’ Johnson: ‘Worse, Madam; a Whig! But he is both!’”

Mr. Murray’s friend, the Rev. John Whitaker of Manchester, also wrote to him on the subject of Mason’s action.

“I suppose,” he said, “that you have been engaged since I last saw you in your contest with that weak divine
Mason). The Scotch broadsword that you wielded with so much vigour in the defence of your East Indian friend would frighten away the parson with its glitter only.”

Mr. Murray had considerable intercourse with the publishers of Edinburgh, among the chief of whom were Messrs. Creech and Elliot, and by their influence he soon established a connection with the professors of Edinburgh University. Creech, who succeeded Mr. Kincaid in his business in 1773, occupied a shop in the Luckenbooths, facing down the High Street, and commanding a prospect of Aberlady Bay and the north coast of Haddingtonshire. Being situated near the Parliament House—the centre of literary and antiquarian loungers, as well as lawyers—Creech’s place of business was much frequented by the gossipers, and was known as Creech’s Levee. Creech himself, dressed in black-silk breeches, with powdered hair and full of humorous talk, was one of the most conspicuous members of the group. He was also an author, though this was the least of his merits. He was a genuine patron of literature, and gave large sums for the best books of the day.

Charles Elliot’s place of business was in the Parliament Close, near which all the booksellers of Edinburgh then congregated. We introduce him here more especially, as the families of Murray and Elliot were afterwards intimately connected—the son of the one having married the daughter of the other. Elliot was related to the Elliots of Minto, by whom he was patronised and supported. He was one of the first publishers in Scotland who gave large sums for copyright. He gave Mr. Smellie a thousand pounds for his ‘Philosophy of Natural History,’ when only the heads of the chapters were written. He also purchased the ‘First Series of the
Practice of Physic’ from Dr. Cullen, and ‘The System of Surgery’ from Professor Bell, at large prices.

Mr. Elliot was one of Mr. Murray’s principal correspondents. The latter sold in London the chief part of the medical and surgical works which the former published in Edinburgh. We find from Mr. Elliot’s letters that he was accustomed to send his parcels of books to London by the Leith fleet, accompanied by an armed convoy. In June 1780, he wrote: “As the fleet sails this evening, and the schooner carries 20 guns, I hope the parcel will be in London in four or five days;” and shortly afterwards: “I am sending you four parcels of books by the Carron, which mounts 22 guns, and sails with the Glasgow of 20 guns.” The reason of the Edinburgh books being conveyed to London guarded by armed ships, was that war was then raging, and that Spain, France, and Holland were united against England. The American Colonies had also rebelled, and Paul Jones, holding their commission, was hovering along the East Coast with three small ships of war and an armed brigantine. It was therefore necessary to protect the goods passing between Leith and London by armed convoys. Sometimes the vessels on their return, were quarantined for a time in Inverkeithing Bay.

Booksellers were then in the practice of interchanging catalogues, and ordering from each other an amount of books of equal value. We find Mr. Elliot sending to Mr. Murray large numbers of Cullen, Bell, Gregory, and Duncan, and writing to him in 1780, “I am about to publish a eulogium on the late great Dr. Alexander Monro, with an account of his Life, Writings, and Discoveries. I mean to make you the publisher in London. I prefer you, as you have already published the Doctor’s ‘Commentaries.’”


Elliot, like other publishers in England and Scotland, was grossly plundered by the Irish pirates, who printed his works and undersold him both in London and Edinburgh. To an Irish publisher, who wished him to sell books printed in Ireland, Elliot wrote in 1783, “I must, however, inform you, that, as an honest man, and conformed to the laws of his country, I cannot receive or encourage Irish books within the Statute of the 8th of Queen Anne.”

It is often said of publishers that they suck the brains of authors; but authors, it seems, sometimes ransack the pockets of publishers. Dr. Cullen was a very successful author and a very thriving physician, but with regard to his authorship, he played a shabby trick upon the publishers as well as on the public. Dr. Cullen had issued three volumes of his ‘Practice of Physic,’ but on the appearance of the fourth, he refused to sell it separately. Mr. Murray had many copies of the first three volumes on his hands, and he, as well as his customers, desired to have the fourth volume to complete the set. Mr. Murray having expostulated without effect, published a pamphlet, entitled, ‘An Author’s Conduct to the Public, Stated in the Behaviour of Dr. William Cullen, His Majesty’s Physician at Edinburgh.’ The sum of his statements amounted to this—that he had upon his hands eighty-four volumes of Dr. Cullen’s ‘Practice of Physic,’ which would prove no better than waste paper if he was not permitted to complete them in sets; and he desired to have the new edition in exchange for the books he had, volume for volume, according to the practice of the trade.

Mr. Murray was, as we have seen, an author himself. One of his most important pamphlets was ‘The Defence of Innes Monro, Esq., Captain in the late 73rd or Lord
Macleod’s Regiment of Highlanders, against a charge of plagiarism from the works of Dr. William Thompson, with the original papers on both sides.’ The dispute is not worth reviving, but the whole production shows that Mr. Murray was a master of style, and wielded a powerful pen. In 1780 he began a volume of Annual Intelligence, mostly written by himself, under the title of
The London Mercury; but this afterwards gave place to the English Review, of which he was for some time the sole editor.

To return, for a moment, to his personal history. His first wife having died childless, he married again. By his second wife he had three sons and two daughters, two of the sons, born in 1779 and 1781 respectively, died in infancy, while the third, John, born in 1778, is the subject of this Memoir. In 1782 he writes to his friend the Rev. John Whitaker: “We have one son and daughter, the son above four years, and the daughter above two years, both healthy and good-natured.”

In June 1782 Mr. Murray had a paralytic stroke, by which he, for a time, lost the use of his left side, and though he shortly recovered, and continued his work as before, he was aware of his dangerous position. To a friend going to Madeira in September 1791, he wrote: “Whether we shall ever meet again is a matter not easily determined. The stroke by which I suffered in 1782 is only suspended; it will be repeated, and I must fall in the contest.”

In the meantime Mr. Murray made arrangements for the education of his son. He was first sent for a year to the High School of Edinburgh. While there he lived with Mr. Robert Kerr, author of several works on Chemistry and Natural History, published by Mr. Murray. Having passed a year in Edinburgh, the boy returned to London, and after a time was sent to a school at Margate. There he
seems to have made some progress. To a friend Mr. Murray wrote: “He promises, I think, to write well, although his master complains a little of his indolence, which I am afraid he inherits from me. If he does not overcome it, it will overcome him.” In a later letter he said: “The school is not the best, but the people are kind to him, and his health leaves no alternative. He writes a good hand, is fond of figures, and is coming forward both in Latin and French. Yet he inherits a spice of indolence, and is a little impatient in his temper. His appearance—open, modest, and manly—is much in his favour. He is grown a good deal, and left us for Margate (after his holiday) as happy as could be expected.”

In the course of the following year, Mr. Murray sent the boy to a well-known school at Gosport, kept by Dr. Burney, one of his old friends. Burney was a native of the North of Ireland, and had originally been called MacBurney, but, like Murray, he dropped the Mac.

While at Dr. Burney’s school, young Murray had the misfortune to lose the sight of his right eye. The writing- master was holding his penknife awkwardly in his hand, point downwards, and while the boy, who was showing up an exercise, stooped to pick up the book which had fallen, the blade ran into his eye and entirely destroyed the sight. To a friend about to proceed to Gosport, Mr. Murray wrote: “Poor John has met with a sad accident, which you will be too soon acquainted with when you reach Gosport. His mother is yet ignorant of it, and I dare not tell her.”

Eventually the boy was brought to London for the purpose of ascertaining whether something might be done by an oculist for the restoration of his sight. But the cornea had been too deeply wounded; the fluid of the eye had
escaped; nothing could be done for his relief, and he remained blind in that eye to the end of his life. His father withdrew him from
Dr. Burney’s school, and sent him in July 1793 to the Rev. Dr. Roberts, at Loughborough House, Kennington. In committing him to the schoolmaster’s charge, Mr. Murray sent the following introduction:—

“Agreeable to my promise, I commit to you the charge of my son, and, as I mentioned to you in person, I agree to the terms of fifty guineas. The youth has been hitherto well spoken of by the gentleman he has been under. You will find him sensible and candid in the information you may want from him; and if you are kind enough to bestow pains upon him, the obligation on my part will be lasting. The branches to be learnt are these: Latin, French, Arithmetic, Mercantile Accounts, Elocution, History, Geography, Geometry, Astronomy, the Globes, Mathematics, Philosophy, Dancing, and Martial Exercise.”

Certainly, a goodly array of learning, knowledge, and physical training!

To return to the history of Mr. Murray’s publications. Some of his best books were published after the stroke of paralysis which he had sustained, and among them must be mentioned Mitford’sHistory of Greece,’ Lavater’s work on Physiognomy, and the first instalment of Isaac D’Israeli’sCuriosities of Literature.’

Besides his publication of these and other works, he paid much attention to the English Review, established by him in 1783, which has already been mentioned. He found out literary men, and invited them to contribute to its pages. For instance, we find him writing to Sir Robert Liston, then Secretary to the British Embassy at Turin, asking for his assistance. In his letter, he informed Sir Robert that the publication contained reviews of foreign
books, papers on literary news, and accounts of discoveries in arts, science, and manufactures.

In July 1783, we find Mr. Murray taking proceedings at Edinburgh against the publishers of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ for embodying almost verbatim an abridgment of Dr. Stuart’sHistory of the Reformation in Scotland,’ and the ‘History of Scotland’ during the reign of Queen Mary. Murray advised his solicitors to apply for an interdict, and to claim compensation. In a later letter, he writes:—

“I think you have done everything in our prosecution that can be done. The act of piracy cannot fail to be established by the comparison of the Encyclopædia with Dr. Stuart’s volumes; and I hope the interdict of Lord Monboddo will stop the sale of the volume complained of until further satisfaction be obtained.”

In a letter to the Rev. Mr. Whitaker, dated the 20th of Dec., 1784, the following passage occurs:

“Poor Dr. Johnson’s remains passed my door for interment this afternoon. They were accompanied by thirteen mourning coaches with four horses each; and after these a cavalcade of the carriages of his friends. He was about to be buried in Westminster Abbey.”

In 1784 the Rev. Alexander Fraser of Kirkhill, near Inverness, communicated to Mr. Murray his intention of publishing the Memoirs of Lord Lovat, the head of his clan. Mr. Fraser’s father had received the Memoirs in manuscript from Lord Lovat, with an injunction to publish them after his death. “My father,” he said, “had occasion to see his Lordship a few nights before his execution, when he again enjoined him to publish the Memoirs.” General Fraser, a prisoner in the Castle of Edinburgh, had
requested, for certain reasons, that the publication should be postponed; but the reasons no longer existed, and the Memoirs were soon after published by Mr. Murray, but did not meet with any success.

In 1790 Mr. Murray made the acquaintance of young Leslie, afterwards Sir John Leslie, then tutor in the house of Mr. Wedgwood at Etruria in Staffordshire, and made arrangements with him for publishing the translation of ‘Buffon’s Natural History of Birds,’ which appeared in 1793, in nine octavo volumes. After sending the manuscript to London, Leslie made a tour in Holland and Germany with Mr. Thomas Wedgwood—whose early death he greatly lamented as a loss to science and his country. Josiah Wedgwood, with his ever prominent liberality, conferred an annuity of £150 on John Leslie for the careful instruction which he had given to his sons. The sum he received for Buffon laid the foundation of that pecuniary independence, which his prudent habits enabled him early to attain.

Full of energy, and with the desire to labour, we find Leslie writing to Mr. Murray about a paper on Electricity for the English Review. He next suggested the production of the ‘History of the Discovery, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonization of North America’ on which Mr. Murray ventured to suggest another subject, ‘The History of the European Trade and Settlements in India.’ In 1793 Leslie proposed a ‘Dictionary of Chemistry,’ at three guineas a sheet, a work which he eventually carried out, and in the same year, Mr. Murray published his ‘Essays on Natural Philosophy’ in one volume. It was not until the year 1805 that he was, after considerable opposition, elected to the Professorship of Natural Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh; a position in which,
through his discoveries in Natural Science, he achieved the greatest eminence.

The publisher went on with his business, sometimes earning, sometimes losing. A cargo of his books was lost by shipwreck on passing from Leith to London. The publication of ‘Lavater on Physiognomy’ in parts, a costly work, largely illustrated, resulted in a heavy loss.

Mr. J. Beddowes, then at Edinburgh, translated for Mr. MurrayScheele’s Essays,’ for which he paid him sixty guineas. “I shall now,” he wrote to Beddowes, “have three works in progress at Edinburgh. Until these are finished I will not be tempted with more adventures, for the success of the best works is precarious.” Murray had much correspondence with Professor Millar of Glasgow as to the publication of his works, and in November 1785 wrote to him:

“I am sorry to say that the generality of authors first apply for a publisher’s offer and afterwards parade it amongst other publishers to get better terms. But as there appears to be both candour and honour in your correspondence, I will give you £100 immediately (without having seen the MS.) and divide profits, you retaining half the copyright.”

About the same time he writes to Dr. R. Robertson, of Hythe, near Southampton:

“I have always found it more difficult to settle accounts with a gentleman author than with a bookseller, although I generally give more liberal terms to the former than to the latter. The reason is, that gentlemen being unacquainted with the nature of bookselling (which, indeed, cannot be taken up in a moment), are constantly suspicious of every charge which they do not understand, and asking explanations about it, which to a bookseller is unnecessary and never required.”


Mr. Murray made frequent visits to Edinburgh, on business as well as pleasure, usually going by land, notwithstanding the badness of the roads and the tediousness of the journey. The war with France was still raging, and the French were endeavouring to seize the merchant vessels passing along the coast, even when accompanied by an armed squadron. In March 1793 Mr. Robert Kerr of Edinburgh, when sending to Mr. Murray his work on Zoology, said,

“My third half-volume is ready, and shall be sent to you as soon as a regular armed convoy is established between Leith and London; for much as I respect the French I am not disposed to favour them with any of my labours gratis.”

The distressed state of trade and the consequent anxieties of conducting his business hastened Mr. Murray’s end. Mr. Samuel Highley was his principal assistant and the correspondent of the firm. In September 1793 Highley wrote to a correspondent: “A severe fit of illness has confined Mr. Murray to his bed for five weeks past. He has also been much distressed by the late failures at Edinburgh.”

The end soon came. On the 6th of November Highley wrote to his correspondent: “Mr. Murray died this day after a long and painful illness, and appointed as executors Dr. G. A. Paxton, Mrs. Murray, and Samuel Highley. The business hereafter will be conducted by Mrs. Murray.” The Rev. Donald Grant, D.D. and George Noble, Esq., were also executors, but the latter did not act.

The income of the property was divided as follows: one half to the education and maintenance of Mr. Murray’s three children, and the other half to his wife so long as she remained a widow. But in the event of her marrying
again, her share was to be reduced by one-third and her executorship was to cease.

John Murray began his publishing career at the age of twenty-three. He was twenty-five years in business, and died at the comparatively early age of forty-eight. That publishing books is not always a money-making business may be inferred from the fact that during these twenty-five years he did not, with all his industry, double his capital. Perhaps his last enterprise was his worst—the publication of Lavater’s work on Physiognomy. The engraving of the plates caused the principal part of the loss. The executors put the case to arbitration, and were eventually compelled to pay out of the estate the sum of £3900. The English Review was by no means a paying publication; but on the death of Mr. Murray it passed into other hands.